French MP wants new word for a ‘parent whose child has died’

The proposed word is “parange”, a portmanteau of parents d’anges (parents of angels). There is no official English word for this yet

23 February 2021
A petition in France to have an official word to describe a parent who has lost a child has over 60,000 signatures
By Thomas Brent

A French MP has called for the word “parange”, a noun to describe a parent whose child or children have died, to be adopted into the French language.

Mathilde Panot, MP for Val-de-Marne, backed by around 30 other MPs, delivered a proposition de résolution to the Assemblée nationale on February 11 with the aim of having the word officially recognised. 

A proposition de résolution is a proposal that MPs debate and give an opinion on as a way of gauging the popularity of an idea. It is a first step towards a law being created.

"The idea is to ask the National Assembly to recognise the word 'parange' and to get the government to commit to popularising it,” Ms Panot said in an interview with online news site Huffpost. 

“It all comes from an email I received last December 24 from a woman named Lili," she said. 

“This woman told me, 'three years ago, I lost my son. He was 39 years old. My daughter-in-law is a widow, my grandchildren are orphans, and I am nothing, I don't know who I am’."

Origins of the word

The word “parange” was popularised by a woman named Nadia Bergougnoux, who lost her child after six-and-a-half months of pregnancy nearly 30 years ago.

In 2016, she launched a petition calling for the word to be inducted into the French dictionary. 

It has been signed by over 60,000 people. 

Ms Bergougnoux wrote in a testimony presented as part of the proposition de résolution that: 

“There remains one fundamental point to be settled for grieving parents: a child loses their parents, they are an orphan, a husband loses his wife, he is a widower... parents lose their child, there is no word to describe them!”

“Double punishment! That of the death of one's child, and that of the non-recognition of our status.”

She is the administrator of a Facebook group called Collectif "Un Nom Dans Le Dictionnaire Pour Les Paranges, that is campaigning for the word “parange” to be officially recognised.

Lili, the woman who initially contacted Ms Panot about the word, also added her voice to the proposal.

“There are 65,000 words in the dictionary, but there are no words to "evoke" or "qualify" - I put that in quotation marks - a parent when the child is no longer there. 

“Nothing, absolutely nothing in literature provides for this state, while we are thousands of families mourning the loss of a child.”

Ms Panot said that she believes the proposal could eventually become a law.

“This is one of the few resolutions I have brought forward in which there are co-signatures from absolutely every group in the National Assembly," she said. 

“If it were put on the agenda, I think it would be adopted unanimously."

An English equivalent?

There is no official English word to describe a parent whose child or children have died.

However, there is, like in French, a proposal for a word.

Karla Holloway, who is a professor at Duke University in the US and who herself lost a child, came up with the word “vilomah” in 2006.

It means, “against the natural order” in Sanskrit. 

In a 2009 essay published in the university publication Duke Today, she explained it.

“Against the natural order... As in, the grey-haired should not bury those with black hair. As in our children should not precede us in death. If they do, we are vilomahed.”

Our Missing Peace, a UK-based charity set up to help parents who have lost children, has started a petition to have the word added to English-language dictionaries. 

It has been signed by 1,380 people.

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